Last Thursday night at around 10:00 PM, I received an e-mail from iTunes telling me that my pre-order of David Bowie’s new Blackstar album was available for download. Two of its seven songs had been previously released, and I had loved them both, so Marcia and I actually got in bed and listened to the whole album together in its entirely before going to sleep, something we’ve rarely done in our 28 years together.
The plaintive chorus that ends the album — “I can’t give everything away” — soared melodically, even as it haunted in terms of why the 69-year old star of stars was thinking in terms of bequests and transferals in the first place. We discussed those and Blackstar‘s other lyrics the next day, noting they were dark, imbued with strong images of mortality, alternatively raging against it or succumbing to its embrace. I noted that the album reminded of me Bowie’s classic Station to Station, a tight, seven-track disc with an epic opening title song, followed by oddly-framed, evocative pieces of no recognizable genre.
Katelin and I had then texted about the album over the weekend, which was pleasing since I often claim a particularly bright “Parenting Gold Star” in knowing that she has grown up to cite David Bowie as her favorite artist, loving many of the same albums that I do, with similar fervor. I was also pleased to realize that Marcia and I had seen Bowie’s keyboardist on the new album, Jason Lindner, in concert a couple of months ago as part of the Anat Cohen Quartet, where he was stellar. Lots of positive past and present connections, in other words, with lots of promise for the future.
So, like the rest of the world, I was utterly shocked and gutted to learn this morning that the great one had flown away, and that he’d been battling cancer throughout the entire creative process of this album.
Last night, the final piece of music I listened to (well, other than the Steven Universe theme song, which we watched right before bed) was “Lazarus” from Blackstar. The story of Lazarus is generally viewed as a positive one, of rebirth in this world, in anticipation of rebirth in the next. We were awed as a family when David Bowie emerged like that song’s subject from what seemed to be a creative crypt two years ago with the unexpected The Next Day, which I easily declared 2013’s Album of the Year. Many (me included) would have read the new song allegorically in terms of that recent creative rebirth — but now knowing what we know, it was something far more explicit, and the recently released “Lazarus” video now takes on a whole new meaning, on every level.
David Bowie was a brilliant artist, both musically and visually, and the final views we have of him (see also the “Blackstar” video) find him controlling and curating how he presented himself to his audiences with all of the care and creativity we’ve come to expect over the past half century. I don’t normally feel any real emotional sense of loss when people I don’t know personally pass on, but this one resonates deeply with me. David Bowie has been a part of my personal life and our family’s life in meaningful, inspirational ways, and what an awesome legacy he leaves behind for millions of other people who feel the same way.
We should all go with such grace and dignity and self-control. What a gift to see it done that way.